How C-Level Performance & Behaviors Impact A-Players and Managers

Can any organization truly be a high performance organization without effectively addressing the issue of C-players on staff?


Every leader, regardless of his or her industry and organizational structure, has the primary mission of assembling the right people on staff to achieve the organization’s goals and objectives. In competitive sports, teams win regularly when the right players are in the right roles and are consistently doing the right things at the right time. No difference in the workplace. That’s why hiring right, developing talent well, and managing that talent effectively are all part of winning organizations.


The Management Joys and Challenges of A, B, and C Players

It’s easy to manage high performing talent (the A players). A players are mostly self-directed, rarely make mistakes, and overachieve their objectives consistently. Typically comprising the top 10% of a workforce, A players are fully engaged all day every day. They’re a joy to manage.

It’s also easy to manage the B players, the “solid citizens” on staff. They consistently perform their work to or just above standards, contribute few problems, and are thoroughly reliable. B players, who make up between 60-75% of the workforce, are generally engaged. For the most part, B players are also a joy to manage.

The management challenge is with the C players, the chronic underachievers who make up between 15-25% of the workforce. Most of the people problems managers deal with come from C players. As does a disproportionate share of quality problems, absenteeism, employee theft, policy abuse, and attitudinal concerns. There is little joy in managing C players.


C-Level Performers Are the Elephant in the Room



Think of the department or work group in which you’re employed. Can you identify from among those with whom you work who the C players? Of course you can! It’s no secret who the C players are. They consistently perform at a low level, likely complain if given the opportunity, and have a poor attitude.

In fact, you’ve probably identified C players in other departments, especially if you work with them on a project team or if you are a customer of a C player.

People outside your organization find it easy to spot C players, too. Take the customers of your company’s services or products. They can tell pretty quickly when being served by a C Player…and the poor service they experience erodes customer confidence. How about the vendors of your company? Or business partners?

It’s pretty darn difficult to hide a C player when they are the elephant in the room!


The Debilitating Impact of C Players

As Dr. Steve Hunt writes in his 2017 article on high performers, High performing people draw energy and ideas from being around other high performers. They lose energy and inspiration when forced to work with people that don’t share their focus on doing the best job possible. Think of that for a moment. It’s not just that the C players lower the team’s performance output by their own below-average performance; they make those around them less energetic and inspired to continue performing at a higher level.

C Players also drive wedges in the overall team. Higher performers begin to resent having to carry a disproportionately high workload to offset the smaller workload the C player performs. The A and B players are already talking about the C player amongst themselves. They speculate about why he or she is allowed to continue being a C player. Perhaps the manager doesn’t see it. Perhaps he or she doesn’t want to see it. Any way you slice it, C players erode teams.

In his recent article on 22 Customer Support Statistics That You Absolutely Need to Know, author Lee Markidan points out that 82% of customers who have a poor customer service experience with your organization will stop doing business with you, and only 4% of them will tell you about it. Moreover, while happy customers tell an average of nine other potential customers, unhappy customers tell an average of 16 people. Which player is most the likely person to deliver poor customer service? Answer: a C player. Thus both current and future sales, profits, and brand value are all adversely affected by a C player’s poor performance.


Addressing the C Player Issue

Effective managers recognize the serious impact of C players. Here are some of the proactive steps that can be taken to address the C player issue:

1. Don’t hire C players. Steve Jobs considered hiring correctly as the single most important job a manager has to get right. He wouldn’t settle for C players, and neither should you. Your interview process should be evaluated, top to bottom, to ensure that you are utilizing all the best practices associated with effective hiring. Look at my recent 4-part series on hiring for insight on hiring.

2. Set A-level expectations from the start. There is a small window of time, perhaps 45 days, during which you have the greatest opportunity to improve someone’s behavior and performance. This 45-day period is the first six weeks in a new job or role. Expectation setting is a crucial part of this. Here are some best practices about how to set expectations.

3. Implement a coaching and feedback regimen. Have you scheduled time each and every day to observe performance, give feedback, and provide employee coaching? Ken Blanchard calls feedback and coaching the breakfast of champions, one of the things effective managers do well. If you’re like most busy people, you’ll forget to do it as often as you’d like; that’s why you’ll need to schedule it and stick to the schedule. This article explains a number of coaching best practices.

4. Recognize poor fit quickly. Most C players reveal themselves in their first 30 days on the job if you are observing, coaching, and providing feedback. Someone who is a C player is not a bad person; he or she is a bad fit for the job or role he or she is in. Often this is the result of a poor hire or promotion decision.

5. Deal rapidly with C-level performance and behavior. Unlike fine wine, unacceptable performance or behavior does not get better with age. If you’re hoping that the light will suddenly go on if you just give someone more time to figure things out, you are likely headed for disappointment. Everyone on staff should know and understand that C-level performance or behavior is unacceptable at any and all times. Your organization likely has a performance improvement process and you’ll need to follow it. With urgency.

6. Cut the cord compassionately. If the C-level performance or behavior cannot be speedily and permanently corrected, then do both of you a favor and cut the cord. You owe it to your organization, the rest of your staff, and to your customers to sever the relationship. Do so with compassion. Avoid accusatory language or acting out of anger. Allow the C-level performer to leave with dignity.


Bottom Line.

Top organizations simply have no tolerance for C-level performance and behaviors. Their managers understand the debilitating costs of C-level performers and take steps to hire right and use a best practices approach to managing C-level performance off their teams.

This article is derived from my Leading Through People leadership development program, one of America’s most comprehensive programs for accelerating organizational talent development.


I help job seekers, higher ed, and employment services connect people to better jobs faster. My company’s acclaimed career development tools help people navigate the ever-changing landscape of conducting a successful job search. I also work with some of the world’s top employers by helping them get the most out of their talented people. My company’s extensive leadership development course catalog provides effective skills-building for everyone in the organization, from the new / developing leader to the seasoned C-level executive. My company’s coaching programs produce significant results in compressed periods of time. To find out more, please visit us at, email us at, or call us at 215-942-0982.


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